Farewell to the Old White House Press Room

White House renovations are wiping out the venerable briefing room used by reporters for decades. But before moving to temporary digs, the correspondents welcomed former colleagues and former press secretaries for a big farewell ceremony.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We're going to wrap up this part of the program with our White House correspondent David Greene. He engaged in an act of permissible vandalism today while he waited for a historic briefing.

(Soundbite of milling crowd)

DAVID GREENE reporting:

As I talk to you right now, I'm actually sitting in NPR's assigned seat in the briefing room. If you're the press secretary looking out, we're in the fourth row, all the way to the right along the wall, usually next to a pile of ladders. There's a little bronze plaque here on our chair that says National Public Radio, and while I'm waiting here, I might try to unscrew it so we can get a souvenir.

Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Spokesman): Welcome to the final briefing before we christen the next swimming pool here at the White House.

GREENE: So began Spokesman Tony Snow's final briefing from the current White House briefing room. The joke about the swimming pool refers to an actual pool that President Franklin Roosevelt had built in 1933. President Nixon decided in 1970 to build a briefing room on top of the pool. Snow was suggesting that after the press corps gets booted this week, the White House may prefer to have a pool.

No one took Snow seriously, though, because President Bush himself stopped by today to promise reporters a new briefing room and new work space after nine months of renovations.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Would you like suede chairs? Is that what you're looking at, kind of velvet arm chairs? Everybody wants to be able to lean back? It looks a little crowded in here. And so we want to double the size? Forget it.

(Soundbite of crowd laughing)

GREENE: Several former press secretaries also came by for this occasion. James Brady, who was shot in 1981 during the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, was here. There was also Joe Lockhart, who served President Clinton. And another spokesman, who served Mr. Bush's father, the first President Bush, and announced the beginning of the Gulf War from this briefing room in 1991, Marlin Fitzwater.

Mr. MARLIN FITZWATER (Former White House Press Secretary): The liberation of Kuwait has begun.

GREENE: Roughly a decade later, the second President Bush was talking about going after Saddam Hussein again at the same podium.

President BUSH: We expect him not to develop weapons of mass destruction, and if we find him doing so, there will be a consequence.

GREENE: There is a lot of history in this room. The trouble is the room's all but falling apart. The briefing room and press work space were renovated some in 1981, but now it's time for a major overhaul. Veteran CBS news correspondent Peter Maer said one early morning during the Clinton years, he ran into something unexpected.

Mr. PETER MAER (CBS News): It was a rat of the four-legged species that was scampering across the camera platform.

GREENE: You don't see that kind of stuff on TV. This place looks so clean and pretty.

Mr. MAER: Right. You know, when you see this in certain television mini-series or in the movies, it always looks so sparkling and white, and all the seats look beautifully upholstered. But if truth be known, it's falling apart at the seams. The seats are caving in. There's water leaking from some of the walls. There's rumors of asbestos inside the insulation. So a lot of reasons for the people in charge here to start thinking about gutting this place and changing it for this century.

GREENE: There have been many NPR correspondents who have worked here.

TED CLARK reporting:

This is Ted Clark at the White House.

BRENDA WILSON reporting:

At the White House, I'm Brenda Wilson reporting.

RICHARD GONZALES reporting:

I'm Richard Gonzales at the White House.

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the White House.

MARA LIASSON reporting:

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

PAM FESSLER reporting:

Pam Fessler, NPR News, the White House.

DON GONYEA reporting:

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

GREENE: And it's David Greene again. Now I'm downstairs in the NPR booth, where all those NPR voices have come from. It's a tiny little space deep underground. Let me put my arms out here. Yup, I can pretty easily touch both walls at the same time. We'll see if they make our new booth a little bigger. This room is going to be ripped up in a few days, so I'd better make this last sign off good.

(Clearing throat)

GREENE: David Greene, NPR News, the White House. How was that? That sound okay?

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